Firstly thanks to Sharif for offering his wonderful system to compare stages. It is beautifully balanced across frequencies being revealing and completely non fatiguing. IMO, the L40s are exceptional with a superior top end than the 431*. I own modded 4311s and only in the lower frequencies does the extra heft give it an advantage. It has taken a new crossover and supertweeters to get the top end competitive, but the L40 top end is better out of the box.
We spent an enjoyable time trialing the three stages I bought plus Sharif's own builds. The cart was a modest but very competent Goldring E3.
We started with the cheapest Creek OBH-8 Mk2 which proved nicely even with a full warmish balance and good rhythm. There was some surface noise but nothing distracting. It lacks soundstage width and detail, but these are more sins of omission. Importantly it is highly enjoyable and would be perfect for a budget TT setup. Yet it is good enough to support a few upgrades down the track. I have tried it with a high end MM AT150SA and found it excellent (and also very quiet). At the £129 retail, it is already stupidly good VFM. At the discounted Bristol show price of under a ton, it is a steal.
The Graham Slee Gram 2 SE did not gel in Sharif's system at all. It had more surface noise, was brighter and busier. In my system , which is more rolled off at the top and heavier at the bottom, the balance is much better but we dismissed this one immediately and moved onto Sharif's battery powered stage. This sounded very nice, more open than the Creek but well balanced. I think we both agreed this was the best so far.
The Long Dog Audio MM was next, and to my ears it was a considerable step up, sound projected well beyond the speakers and the performance was more nuanced, dynamic and believable. Also surface noise vanished. If the price tag was £500 not the £200 it costs, I would not have blinked.
Then Sharif tried his own built transistor amp. Wow, this was in a different league, it instantly made everything else sound lightweight. This had richness, depth, body and scale and was good enough to compete with much more esoteric end game stages.
Almost two hours flew by as we were frequently too busy enjoying the music. What was obvious was how different the stages all sounded and Sharif's system enabled the character of each to be pinpointed quickly and consistently.
Thanks again to Sharif for the use of his terrific system.